As much as it might feel like it, the baseball world has not completely shut down. While the thrilling rush of free-agent signings and trades from the past few days will cease for now because of the lockout, there is a lot of baseball business still to be conducted.
One of the more important items comes this Sunday, when the biggest void in the membership of the Baseball of Hall Fame can be filled: The omission of White Sox legend Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso, remembered by history as Minnie.
The ballots are as follows:
• The Early Baseball committee (covers the beginning of time to 1950) will consider Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales.
• The Golden Days committee (covers 1950 to 1969) will consider Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills.
This is a big weekend for the Hall, which is hoping that 2022 will bring with it the full Hall of Fame induction experience, including the annual Parade of Legends, the induction ceremony itself and the scores of fans who make their way to Cooperstown, New York, each July. After the festivities were canceled because of the pandemic in 2020, 2021 saw a scaled-down version in September in which Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller were inducted without parades and with smaller crowds than otherwise would have flocked to upstate New York, particularly for Jeter.
The thing is, Induction Weekend is a heck of a lot more fun — and a bigger draw — when there are actual inductees. And there is no guarantee that this year’s BBWAA ballot will produce any new Hall of Famers.
Sadly, of this group of 20, the only candidates still living are Kaat, Oliva and Wills, so obviously it would be great for one or all of that trio to get in. We’ll get to that, but for now I want to really focus on Minoso, the most egregious omission in the Hall’s plaque room, at least among those not still on the BBWAA ballot.
Minoso died on March 1, 2015, at the age of somewhere between 89 and 92 — we’ll probably never know for sure — a few months after being denied for a second time by a Golden Era committee. Needing 12 votes both times, he received nine in 2011 and eight in 2014.
The White Sox and Minoso’s family have both continued to push awareness of his candidacy since he died, efforts that have ramped up in recent weeks. The White Sox held a videoconference in which a panel of historians and experts discussed Minoso, and earlier this week, Minoso’s birthday (Nov. 29) was celebrated with an event near Guaranteed Rate Field, at the spot where home plate at the old Comiskey Park is marked, with Minoso’s widow, Sharon, and son, Charlie, in attendance.
In other words, while Minoso won’t be around for his induction, should it come, there will be plenty of celebration should he be elected, beginning Sunday night.
When you read about Minoso’s case, there is invariably a lot about the context of his career, which is crucial. And there is always a lot of lamenting about the coming-out-of-retirement stunts that saw him take the field in 1976 and 1980 for the Bill Veeck-owned White Sox — meaning he played MLB games in five different decades — and later in the 1990s and 2000s, when he made appearances for the independent league St. Paul Saints, owned by Veeck’s son Mike.
The unfortunate consequence of the White Sox appearances was that while Minoso’s big league career really ended in 1964, his time on the BBWAA ballot did not begin until 1986 — a full generation later. Thus, for a time, the stunts became a bigger part of his legacy than his playing career.
Voters should have known better, whether or not they saw him play — even before the internet, there were ways of learning this stuff — but perhaps the stunts were a factor in keeping him out. After Minoso missed in 2014, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf agreed that the delayed candidacy undermined Minoso, telling the Chicago Tribune, “Now he’s being considered by people who really didn’t see him play. I think coming back definitely hurt his chances.”
Well, enough time has passed that there really aren’t that many around who remember the stunts firsthand, and with the rise of digital information and baseball analytics since then, we have a better grasp than ever of the feats of players like Minoso. Now is the time to finally honor those feats.
For now, let’s set aside the context of Minoso’s career or anything he did beyond playing in the big leagues or even the recent addition of Negro League statistics to baseball’s official numerical canon. For me, the best case for Minoso’s election to the Hall of Fame is that he was, on the merits, a Hall of Famer player. Full stop.
One type of player who was overlooked in the pre-sabermetric eras of baseball was one who had a lot of his value tied up in his ability to draw bases on balls. This doesn’t exactly describe Minoso, but bear with me. Bill James has written about this many times, but for the longest time, people simply didn’t see the ability to draw walks as part of the skill of the batter so much as the failing of the pitcher.
Walks were often omitted from official registers (remember the once-ubiquitous “Who’s Who in Baseball” annuals?) and on-base percentage was simply not a thing. Thus, a crucial component of a hitter’s ability was overlooked.
Now consider this: During the 1950s, there were 271 big league hitters who accumulated at least 1,000 plate appearances, according to baseball-reference.com. Only 10 of those players posted on-base percentages of at least .400. Minoso was one, and it wasn’t just walks — in the time before the body armor that hitters now wear to the plate, he stood right on top of the dish and led the American League in hit by pitches in 10 of 11 seasons between 1951 and 1961.
This by itself doesn’t get Minoso into the Hall, of course. The point is that this was a major part of his game that most observers simply didn’t get when he played, and during much of the time his Hall candidacy was being evaluated. It was part of why Ted Williams once said that among his contemporaries, Minoso was the most likely to become baseball’s next .400 hitter.
Talking about walks and plunks doesn’t begin to paint the full portrait of Minoso’s skills. He hit for power, slugging .461 for his career despite playing about 40% of his games in pitcher-friendly Comiskey Park. He was a dervish on the bases, leading the AL in triples and steals three times apiece, and becoming the main reason why the 1950s White Sox became known as the “Go Go Sox”.
The first Gold Gloves weren’t handed out until 1957, but the by-then-aging Minoso won one in three of the first four years they existed. Even before that, from 1951 to 1956, before the awards came into being, the only AL outfielders who saved more runs with the glove were Jimmy Piersall and Al Kaline, according to Fangraphs.
You add it all up, using modern techniques, and considering the period from 1951 to 1961 — Minoso’s best seasons — the only position player in the AL who compiled more fWAR was Mickey Mantle. Mantle had 85.1, far ahead of second-place Minoso at 52.3 during that span, but then it drops down to Yogi Berra in third at 49.2, followed by Ted Williams at 49.1.
So I have to ask: If the only player in a league better than you over an 11-year period is Mickey Mantle, how are you not a Hall of Famer?
Most of the time, when you hear mainstream conversations about “Hall of Fame numbers,” those talks revolve around big career totals, which is fine. If you win 300 games, get 3,000 hits or hit 762 home runs, you should be in the Hall of Fame, assuming you are eligible. And if you played in at least 10 seasons and haven’t been kicked out of baseball, you are eligible.
This distinction of Hall eligibility has enabled the induction of several players whose careers were relatively short, like Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, Ralph Kiner and Jackie Robinson. This is as it should be. At the same time, it has never made any sense to me why players like that — who retire before piling up 15 or 20 years — can be honored, but players who maybe are stars for a decade and are mediocre beyond that (think Dwight Gooden) can somehow play themselves out of the Hall. Should they have just quit while they were ahead? Would it have been better if they had suffered some kind of career-ending injury?
So while I will always consider the full body of evidence for every player and revere players who put up those historic career numbers built up over long careers, I also believe that if you’re a Hall of Fame-level player for a decade, then you’re a Hall of Fame player.
You might think this would open the door for an avalanche of new Hall of Famers who meet that criteria, but it really doesn’t. A rough analytic guideline would be that if you compile 50 WAR over a 10-year period, as Minoso did, you have a strong case. That cracks a door for current non-Hall of Famers like Gooden, Bobby Grich, Bobby Abreu, Graig Nettles, Keith Hernandez and a few others, but it’s not an avalanche, and all of those players have their advocates.
Now, because we’re making this argument using criteria that didn’t exist at the time (WAR), let’s employ another recently developed measure: Championship Probability Added. This takes a player’s game-by-game results and considers them through the prism of how much they added or detracted from his club’s chances to win the World Series in a given campaign. It, along with its statistical cousin, Win Probability Added, are my favorite advanced metrics for weaving narrative criteria into the empirical record.
Minoso never played in the postseason but during the totality of his time with the White Sox, Chicago was one of the most consistent threats to the implacable dynasty of the Mantle-Casey Stengel New York Yankees, along with Cleveland, with whom Minoso played in 1958 and 1959 after being traded for Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn and outfielder Al Smith.
While neither Chicago nor Cleveland claimed a pennant with Minoso, he managed to compile the 30th-highest total of championship probability added of all time, or at least during the time the metric can be calculated, which dates back to 1916. The only non-Hall of Famers who rank higher than Minoso are Barry Bonds, Tommy Henrich and Boog Powell.
For me, that much evidence in the empirical realm would be enough to put Minoso into Cooperstown. But there is so much more with him than the empirical record, and here is where we get into the context of what he did.
Again, we don’t know for sure how old Minoso was when he died. Officially, it was 89. The family, at the time, said it had records that put him at 90. In an addendum to his own autobiography, Minoso himself refers to being 27 years old when he first broke into the majors with Cleveland in 1949, which would have made him 92.
If that last figure is the right one, then when Minoso was edged out by the Yankees’ Gil McDougald in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting for 1951, he would have already been 28 years old. So that entire Hall-worthy resume that I just outlined was compiled after he’d already hit the prime of his career.
Even if Minoso was 25 or 26 in his rookie season, that’s still a very late start for a player who was probably ready for the majors by age 21 or 22. One thing that has changed since his last time on the era ballot is the inclusion of Negro League statistics to the official record. He was an All-Star in the Negro League National League in both 1947 and 1948, during which he hit .351 in the games that have been accounted for.
We know from what happened after the game finally became integrated that the best players in the Negro Leagues then became among the best players in the American and National Leagues, so it’s not a stretch to say that Minoso was ready to be a regular in one of those circuits by 1947. Minoso broke in with Cleveland in 1949 but barely played, and he spent all of the 1950 season in the the high-caliber Pacific Coast League. During the 1949 and 1950 seasons, when Minoso certainly could have been a regular on a big league club, he put up big numbers for the proto San Diego Padres.
All of those seasons were years in which Minoso, in a different time and place, would have been racking up hits, walks, awards and WAR for the Indians, White Sox or somebody else. All told, Minoso played professionally from the mid-1940s into the early 1970s. A few years ago, SABR researcher Scott Simkus figured out that Minoso was one of a short list of players who have compiled more than 4,000 hits as a professional, finishing with 4,073.
Why did Minoso get such a late start? We know why. It was because of wanton prejudice and ignorance, which began to be pushed out of the game only when Robinson broke the color line by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. It was still alive and well when Minoso arrived in Chicago early in the 1951 season as the first Black player for either team in the city. That was more than two years before Ernie Banks joined the Cubs, becoming the first Black player for the Northsiders.
For all of this, if you remember one biographical fact about Minoso, remember this one: He was the first Black player from Latin America who played in either the American or National Leagues. The impact of this on baseball cannot be measured. He is revered to this day in his native Cuba, where as a young man he worked in sugarcane fields. He has been revered for decades by aspiring ballplayers all across Latin America.
Minoso opened the door for so many who have come after, flourishing despite the prejudice against Black players and Latino players alike. There is a brutal example of this in an exhibit on Latin baseball that has been on display for years at the Hall of Fame. It features an old cartoon from the so-called “bible of baseball” — The Sporting News — which, 11 years into his career, mocks the way Minoso spoke.
Prior to Minoso’s candidacy on the Golden Era ballot in 2011, I attended an event at Guaranteed Rate Field in which his special context first smacked me between the eyes, because it changed the way I thought about what I believed I already knew about Minoso’s place in baseball history.
Adrian Burgos, an expert on Latin baseball who has worked for years on that subject with the Hall of Fame, uttered the lines that made me sit straight up, saying, “The Latinization of baseball started with Minoso. We needed Minoso to counteract the stereotype of the hot-headed Latin. We needed another Jackie Robinson. That’s what Minoso brought to the game.”
Later, I found the sentiment predated that day when I read the foreword to Minoso’s autobiography, written by Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. He wrote, “Minnie Minoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to Black ballplayers. Minnie is the one who made it possible for all us Latins. He was the first Latin player to become a superstar.”
That day in 2011, when the White Sox held that forum for Minoso, I was touched by him. Literally. I was sitting in my seat waiting for the event to begin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Minoso. There was a table set up on the floor with catered food, and he was concerned because I had not partaken. He insisted I get something to eat and seemed perplexed that I had not. It’s just the way he was.
It wasn’t the first time I’d met Minoso. I’d seen him in and around ballparks in Chicago a few times and chatted with him. Pretty much everyone who was around baseball in Chicago while he was alive can say the same thing. Beyond everything else Minoso contributed to the game, perhaps the most essential role he played was that of ambassador, representing the sport not just to Chicago, but to the entire baseball world, all the way to the borders of this country and beyond. And despite the abuse and prejudice and mockery he overcame on and off the field for so long, all he ever did when he was in public was smile.
Sadly, it’s too late for Minoso to give us that smile up on the podium on induction day, next summer in Cooperstown. But it’s not too late to give him the honor that he should have received years ago.
When and if that happens because of the deliberations taking place this weekend, we can then exhale, and do Minnie Minoso the honor of smiling on his behalf, returning the favor he did for so many while he was alive.
Rest of the ballots
Look, I’m not a small Hall guy. There isn’t one name that I listed above on the two era ballots that I wouldn’t be thrilled about if it is added to the sacred list of those immortalized at the Hall. I feel strongly about Minoso’s candidacy, and the fact that I decided to focus on him is not meant to slight beloved candidates like Oliva, Wills, Kaat, Maris and Hodges.
The two ballots will be considered separately. Each of the candidates needs 12 of the possible 16 votes to be enshrined. Last time around, Allen and Oliva fell exactly one vote short. Each voter can list up to four candidates on their ballot, so the problem immediately becomes one of creating a consensus. It’s not a thumbs-up or thumbs-down proposition.
With that in mind, and because I don’t want to argue against anybody’s case, I’ll just briefly highlight the candidates on each ballot that I would list if I were included in the process.
On the Golden Era ballot, in addition to Minoso, I’d list Allen and Boyer. For both, it’s that 10-year criteria again.
During his 10 full seasons with the Cardinals, Boyer compiled 56.8 bWAR, won an MVP award and five Gold Gloves and helped St. Louis to the 1964 championship. The only non-Hall of Fame third basemen ranked higher than Boyer in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system are Scott Rolen (who I think should be in and is still on the BBWAA ballot) and Nettles, who’d I’d also put in.
Meanwhile, Allen put up 54.5 bWAR during his best 10-year period. He also won an MVP and won the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year award with one of the best-ever first seasons. His counting numbers were depressed by the pitching-friendly era in which he played, but he still won two home run titles, piled up big on-base percentages and led his leagues in OPS four times. He was a complex individual, to be sure, but for me, his numbers over the period of a full decade carry the day.
As for the Early Days committee, I’d list four names: O’Neil, O’Doul, Donaldson and Dahlen.
While O’Neil and O’Doul had very different life paths, my case for them is similar in that you have to consider their overall contributions to the game. This is allowed, even though the Hall requires an enshrinee to eventually be classified as a player or manager or executive or contributor, etc.
Most of you reading this will remember O’Neil as, like Minoso, a precious ambassador of the game. He was also a very good player in the Negro Leagues, a legendary scout and the first Black coach in a surviving major league, doing so for the Cubs. And, man, could that guy tell a story. He should have gotten in a long time ago.
O’Doul hit .349 for his 11-year big league career, though part of that was certainly because of some hitter-friendly contexts in which he flourished. He also dominated in the powerful Pacific Coast League, long before the majors ventured west of St. Louis. They played a wild number of games in the PCL and in 1925, O’Doul hit .375 over 198 games, finishing with an absurd 309 hits — in one season!
O’Doul was also the PCL’s most successful manager, played a major role in the popularization of the game in Japan and was an early mentor and longtime friend of Joe DiMaggio. On top of all that, he ran a really fun restaurant/bar/quasi-baseball museum for decades in San Francisco.
As for Donaldson, there simply isn’t much empirical information to go on, as he flourished in the Black baseball world so long ago when so little was documented. He played for more than 30 years, and his pitching drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Again, there’s no way to put numbers to this, but I’ve read enough about Donaldson at this point that I’m convinced that had there been no color line, Donaldson would have soared past 300 wins in the majors.
Finally, there is Dahlen. And, again, his candidacy is one where we can employ modern metrics to take a fresh look at the career of a player who was born in 1870. I first fully realized the strength of his case when I did this all-time ranking of shortstops to see where Jeter slotted in. The numbers mark Dahlen as a player who has been too long overlooked.
Best of luck to the three surviving candidates, and to the families and fans of the other 17. I truly wish they could all get in.
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